Red Gerard qualifies to final in challenging X Games slopestyle elimination round
Americans Crouch, Henkes qualify in top spots; Corning misses cut after injury
ASPEN — Californian Judd Henkes didn’t mince words when describing the daunting challenge he and the 15 other talented slopestyle snowboarders faced Thursday at X Games Aspen. Henkes, Red Gerard and most other riders felt the long slopestyle course at Buttermilk Ski Area was the most challenging they’d ever ridden. On top of that, warm, snowy conditions made the course slow, driving up the difficulty of landing the jumps.
“So take that challenging course and double that ’cause of these conditions,” Henkes said.
Moments earlier, the 18-year-old rising American star Henkes hugged his close friend Red Gerard of Summit County. Gerard also had just tamed the bear of a course, finishing in third behind Henkes and top qualifier Brock Crouch.
“That’s how the USA does! Top three!” an excited Henkes said to a smiling Gerard, who replied by putting up three fingers to signify the young trio’s success on the day.
For Crouch, a 20-year-old from Mammoth Mountain, snowboarding Thursday’s difficult conditions was a dream come true. Just two years ago, Crouch nearly died when he was heli-boarding backcountry in Whistler, Canada. After surviving, Crouch spent last winter, with Gerard by his side, improving his backcountry snow and avalanche safety and skills. Snowboarding and freeski legends like Michelle Parker and Danny Davis took the young duo under their wings, nursing Crouch’s confidence before he returned to the competition circuit this year.
“It’s been a crazy road in my career,” Crouch said. “I’ve gotten in an avalanche and pretty much was dead, and now it’s pretty cool to be back on top of qualifying in X Games.”
On Thursday, Crouch was the star of the show as a loaded slopestyle field meant many stars failed to qualify. That included names like Stale Sandbech, Max Parrot and Chris Corning of Silverthorne, who injured his knee after landing on a flat. Despite the injury, Corning said he will compete in the big air elimination round Friday.
Leaning on Summit County wax tech Ryan McDermott to juice up his board between each run, Crouch took an early lead and never relinquished it. He laced lines that featured several approaches through the rail sections and a soaring triple cork, which is three inversions.
Despite the controlled chaos of the new slopestyle jam format — which ranked and reordered snowboarders after each run, rather than awarding scores — Crouch didn’t pay the swirling storm around him much attention.
“Every time I drop into a course, I try to ask myself, ‘Dude, you know how many times you’ve ridden a rail, done a jump?’ I was just trying to focus on myself,” Crouch said.
Crouch, Henkes and Gerard will be joined in the final by Canadian Darcy Sharpe and Swede Sven Thorgren. That fivesome will join automatic qualifiers Mark McMorris, Mons Roisland and Rene Rinnekangas, who stood on last year’s podium.
As for Gerard, he had to work through nerves after failing to land his first run. On his crucial second run, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist rose to the occasion again, negotiating the technical rails up top before landing a backside 1260 on the second jump, which was the one giving the athletes the most trouble. He then landed a switch back-side triple-cork 1440 before the exclamation point of a cab double-cork 1080 on the final jump, a mandatory side hit.
“It was just hard, man,” Gerard said. “As the contest went on and on and as we got to the end, it was getting to the point where it was impossible to make the jumps. I’m just happy I landed a run.”
The men’s snowboard slopestyle final is scheduled for at 1:45 p.m. Saturday.
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